My career really began when I was in my early teens. When I was a kid, I was always desperate to be independent. I remember walking up the stairs to my bedroom and pretending to unlock the non-existent lock to my pretend flat, which was actually my bedroom door. That desire for independence drove me to work hard even though I wasn’t the brightest kid in the class; what gave me an advantage was that I tried and was interested.
I attended Aberystwth University after receiving an unconditional offer. I returned home during my first year of university and worked part-time in a bar for the first time, and I loved it! When I returned to Abersytwyth, I looked for a job in a pub and began working at the Varsity a few months later.
A few years later, as my time at university was coming to an end, I felt the need to earn more money and began working at another pub. I didn’t want to pursue my chosen career any longer; after all, I was only 21 years old.
By the time the summer had rolled around, I was working full-time in the pub across the street called Bar E (how very 90’s!) and was pretty much running it. One day, a man named Kirkland called in and said he was the Area Manager, and he offered me a job on the relief circuit running pubs all over Wales. Within a few months, Kirkland had given me the General Manager’s job at Bar E, and I toddled down to the Magistrates Court on Aberystwyth’s seafront and obtained my Justice’s On-Licence. This was a big deal to me, and it got even bigger when the name plate arrived, and I got to put my name above the door of Bar E. Proud was an understatement; my immaturity kept it a small thing; I should have made it a bigger deal and not been shy to be proud. My career really started to take shape because Kirkland gave me that chance, and I will always be grateful to him for that.
In time I began to believe that I could be more than a GM, and I wanted to be more, I would find myself researching roles and wanting to know more so I could plan my next step. I never woke up one morning thinking, “I want to be the CEO of a pub company.” I’ve always taken things one step at a time.
Opportunities came up to work in different parts of the business like HR and an opportunity to open a new venue as a result of a recent acquisition. I went ahead and opened the new pub, knowing I was an operator at heart, and I’m so glad I did.
Fast forward another year, and I’d moved to Cardiff and was running the pub I’d always wanted, and before long, I was yearning for more.
A year or so later, at the age of 25, I left the pub and began working as an area manager for a contract catering company. And, I hated it. Knowing myself well enough to know that happiness is more important than anything, 10 months later I left and went back to Aberystwyth to Bar E which had now received a huge investment but was failing.
Before leaving the contract catering job, I picked up a copy of the Caterer, where I discovered an advertisement for an Associate Regional Manager training programme with Enterprise Inns Plc. I really fancied this. The transition from single-site management to multi-site management has always been difficult, and few people get that chance, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss out, and I nearly did! (There’s a story there…).
Assessment centre completed, job secured, and relocation to Cheltenham in October 2009 to begin training as a Regional Manager with Enterprise Inns Plc.
After six months of training, I was appointed as an ostensibly full-fledged Regional Manager with the Company, with Taunton, Exmoor, and North Devon as my regions. I learned a lot in those six months, but nothing compared to what I learned over the next few years.
I worked for Enterprise Inns until June 2012, when I decided to leave because I was honestly unhappy. So, I left, intending to leave the southwest, but it never happened. I ended up working for a competitor company for 20 months, which turned out to be one of the most valuable things I’ve ever done. I got to work in a smaller company, see some different ways of working, and deal with various types of pubs, people, and support levels, which is probably where I discovered my love of the traditional boozer!
But I didn’t fit in, and the company didn’t fit me; I also didn’t feel like it was the right cultural fit for me. So, it was time to decide what to do. In the end I went back to Enterprise, I had missed it.
Back at Enterprise (Ei Group) I was given the opportunity to mentor some new starters, which I thoroughly enjoyed and learned from. A year later, I was offered a position in the Beacon team in a newly formed division; Beacon pubs were essentially boozers, and I jumped at the chance.
The Beacon team was national and was given the opportunity to go out and fix broken businesses, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was working for Mark Brooke who changed my perspective and began to get the most out of me and make the best use of my skills. He believed in me and nominated me for award programmes, as well as awarding me internally and investing in me. But I was too resilient and too shy. I never really told him what my ambitions were; I was allowing myself to be overtaken by others when, in fact, I had the ability to take the step all along. My resilience was becoming my enemy and that’s why it took me almost 10 years to go from Regional Manager to Senior Regional Manager.
Stonegate Pub Company acquired Ei Group plc in March 2020, and I was on secondment as a Senior Regional Manager at the time. Less than two weeks post-acquisition Stonegate were closing all of their thousands of pubs due to COVID 19. This was a time of great change and turmoil for everyone, but gave me an opportunity to demonstrate my leadership abilities.
In May 2020 I was diagnosed with Graves disease. It was a difficult time, but I was so well supported by Stonegate and my GP that I didn’t miss a single day of work. Again, the relevance of this is resilience. It’s critical if you want to succeed that you don’t let anything stand in your way of achieving your goals, and I wasn’t about to let that happen.
My new manager made my role permanent in October 2020, and my role evolved into what it is today. I lead a team of five regional managers and work on numerous projects for Stonegate Group. Stonegate has made significant investments in me, and more are on the way. They help me with my personal development plan, which I am fully responsible for, and have given me the opportunity to participate in their female mentoring programme, which has been absolutely invaluable because I get 1:1 time with a female board member who works with me to improve my soft skills and advises me when I need it.
It’s really important to me to recognise my male advocates. My career really took off when I met my husband. He supports me so much by simply listening to me, working through problems, and reassuring me. Sometimes he takes the weight off at home to help and lets me focus, and he just makes it very clear that he is there to help me achieve what I want. My boss, Mike, is another male advocate who gives me opportunities in the form of projects and tasks and has had so much faith in me since we started working together and I am grateful for this. His encouragement gives me a sense of purpose and direction and I really feel as if this is where I belong.
A typical day in my career would involve talking to multiple teams and people across teams, making phone calls, sending emails, and spending time in trade with my regional managers and their publicans to help them grow their business. We’re often making plans and working together collaboratively.
I believe this career discovered me! When I was younger, I wanted to work in a pub for some reason, probably because my dad worked in one. After my first pub job, I got the bug for the business side of pubs, customer wants and needs, and I haven’t looked back since.
Homegrown talent development, inclusion, diversity, and genuinely equal opportunities for those who didn’t have the best upbringing and those suffering underrepresentation, stereotyping, or “pigeon holed,” particularly women. Since Stonegate acquired Ei, there has been a significant increase in the number of women in senior positions within the company, which they promote through mentoring programmes and their own development programmes. Stonegate believes in a bar-to-boardroom culture, which aligns with my beliefs and is representative of where I started in the industry… which was, ironically, in a pub that Stonegate now owns 20 years later… The Varisty!
The desire to be able to care of myself, the desire to be mentally stimulated and challenged, and the desire to feel as if I am accomplishing and making a difference are what motivated me to succeed.
Being able to demonstrate to any woman thinking she can’t do something, that she can – you can if you think you can.
Mindset is everything.
Sadly, I have to say that my gender has posed unnecessary challenges to my career. Worse, because I was judged by other women. This happened when I first started working at Enterprise in 2009. I would attend training and feedback would be given to my manager, all the feedback to date was in my view fair and honest. I was surprised to receive feedback from only one department, all of which were women, and to be told without examples that I was “arrogant,” “overconfident,” “lacks knowledge but thinks she has knowledge but does not,” and “not suitable for the role.” This feedback turned out to be the result of a variety of factors, the most significant of which were misjudgement and jealousy. This woman knew nothing about me, and had she known anything about me, she would have known that she could have shared her dreams with me, and I would have done anything I could to help her.
My mantra is “Do what makes you happy. There is no time for anything else.”
Be yourself – authenticity is key, any business thrives on people and the best people work for authentic leaders
Be brave – make the bold calls, make that jump, don’t sit comfortably for too long, if you want it go and get it, don’t expect anyone to give it to you
Be proud – recognise yourself and your achievements, don’t be afraid to tell someone you did a good job and are proud of yourself
When the question of gender imbalance is no longer asked, the gender imbalance is addressed, and while I believe our company is addressing the issue, I believe many others are not.
I have been blessed in life by so many women who have nurtured and taught me that it is difficult to name just one who has had an impact on my life. My mum, however, is the ultimate woman. My mum has always believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. She showed me what hard work was, she never stopped wanting more for herself, and she was an excellent role model. My mum had a difficult life; she was a refugee brought up in the care system, and all she desired was family, so she had me. My mum worked multiple jobs to ensure our survival. She could barely read and write when I was a child, but she wanted to go far, so she went to college and learned in her twenties; she is extraordinary.